One of the things I like most about playing with Folk Soul Revival is the fact I never know what to expect.

Last week, drummer Dan Witt sent a text message and invited me to a session in Big Stone Gap, Virginia to record a soundtrack for a documentary. That’s all the information I had going in, but the instructions were simply “10am to ???” at Maggard Studios.

Maggard Studios is located on Railroad Avenue. It’s a tiny side-street in Southwest Virginia and one of the early studios I ever recorded with. It was 1985 when the gospel group Unity rolled into this small studio for a full length “cassette.” Several years later, The Watch would record a DVD and film a small documentary for PBS in this humble room with the late Charlie Maggard and his son Alan on the mixing console.

Since then, “Maggard’s” has garnered amazing success recording gospel, bluegrass and traditional mountain music. There’s even a Grammy nomination for this mountain studio with a great big heart.

It was a beautiful Saturday morning driving up Highway 23 North to Big Stone. As usual, my memory was a bit foggy as to where the studio was located, but an iPhone easily picked up the trail. In a few moments, we were unloading our gear outside the small block building with the hand-drawn letters on the front that read “Maggard Studios.”

Kevin Jackson was out front smoking a cigarette and enthusiastic about playing another gig together. We met each other several years ago while working with Reagan Boggs and it’s always good to see my talented fiddle friend.

We didn’t waste anytime either, it seemed a matter of minutes before we had unpacked the van and setup all the instruments while Alan suggested our placement in the various rooms.

Andy Moynehan introduced himself with a handshake and a “royal” English accent. Chelsea Brodsky his partner/producer also made a warm greeting while pointing us to a table of food and drinks prepared for the day.

As we settled into the studio, Andy told us about the project.

Big Moccasin is a film documentary for these two New York film makers that began as a Kickstarter program to document among other things, Chelsea’s grandmother Geraldine Fraizer. Geraldine had lung cancer and she was dying. Chelsea recalled many summer vacations to the mountains of Nickelsville and as a film student, she wanted to capture the unique culture of her youth.

Together with her boyfriend Andy, they have been in the mountains for several months and “living among the people.”

Along the way, they became friends with some amazing and entertaining characters. My friends in the mountains know exactly what I’m talking about too. There are some colorful people in the hill country. What they lack in conspicuous consumption they make up with deep felt stories and tales that link the past and present.

As musicians, we were introduced to the characters via a flat screen television in the center of the studio. We watched the first 30 minutes and got a feel for the scenery shot on a Canon 5D SLR camera and met the characters which included Geraldine, Polo and “Mouse.”

There were various scenes of mountain hillsides, small houses with typical Appalachian surroundings: cows, horses, children, barns, pickup trunks, camouflaged clothing and plenty of storytelling in the background.

As the video footage set the mood, the guys in Folk Soul would take time to explore their original music and see if any of the scenes played well to the album material. However, for most scenes, we were trying to improvise and capture the mood and emotion of the story. I found that incredibly satisfying too – looking at a screen, finding a particular mood, harmony and melody is a wonderful way to make music.

Alan was in the control room, dictating the digital recording session using Pro Tools software and piping in the words “rolling” all afternoon and into the night.

After 11 hours and plenty of food, exploration and diving into the Big Moccasin story, we were finished around 9.00pm.

Andy and Chelsea were amazing companions on this journey and I particularly appreciate their passion for the project.

I imagine some people may look at the movie and wonder whether this type of film is perpetuating an Appalachian stereotype. But I agree with Alan – “the truth is the truth.”

Big Moccasin is a wonderful story, from what I could tell. We didn’t get to see the full hour and forty minutes and instead tried to capture the various vignettes with an original soundtrack and I’m excited to see and hear the final project.

It was a long day, but the music of Folk Soul Revival and stories from this project will be another mark on history and I was thrilled to be part of the project.

Til next time – fellars!